My geography and brewery interests collided a few months ago. The happy result produced Geo-Brewities. Google says I own that term now, a pseudo-portmanteau of geography + brewery + oddities. I don’t expect it to become part of the popular lexicon. It’s not that catchy.
I took a different approach on the second and possibly final round of this series. The renewed effort began as I noticed a lot of breweries and brewpubs with numbers incorporated into their names. Once again I started with the Brewers Association directory of breweries. It included 5,309 listings for the United States alone. That’s why this might be the last time. If I check again will be more — a lot more — and I’m not sure I can withstand that level of tedium one more time.
From that nearly overwhelming universe, I distilled a couple of hundred breweries that matched my numerical criteria. I’ve documented them in a spreadsheet and shared it with the 12MC audience. The usual caveats applied: omissions and spelling errors were unintentional; the file is only as good as the source and it only applies now (August 2014). It will be out of date if you happen to read this article in the distant future.
This episode brought to you by the number 16; from 12MC’s private collection
That left me with a big list of breweries that incorporated numbers in their names. What should I do with it? Examine it and look for patterns that might align with 12MC’s geography themes, of course. It encompassed every cardinal number from 1 through 16. A prospective brewer wishing to be original would have to start with 17. The smallest number was fractional (several breweries with half of this-or-that) and the largest was 5050 (FiftyFifty Brewing of Truckee, California). I ignored zero and infinity although they both existed in Vermont for some odd reason.
Patterns revealed themselves.
312 Urban Wheat by david mcchesney, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
The first time I recall a telephone area code associated with brewing was Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat. I’m not sure when it first hit store shelves although Beer Advocate reviews extended back as far as 2004. Since then, 312 Urban Wheat won a slew of awards at the Great American Beer Festival and became one of Goose Island’s flagship brews. Those three simple digits associated strongly with a specific geography, downtown Chicago, and resonated with a customer demographic that the brewery hoped to reach. It worked. A similar premise served as inspiration for an episode of Seinfeld that aired in 1998, focusing on the 212 area code of New York City. Clearly an area code could serve as a strong brand identifier and a marketing mechanism.
Regardless of the original inspiration, a solid association between area codes and the craft brewing industry spread nationwide.
- 303 Brewing; Denver, CO (planned)
- (405) Brewing Co; Norman, OK (planned)
- 406 Brewing; Bozeman, MT
- (512) Brewing; Austin, TX
- 515 Brewing; Clive, IA
- 603 Brewery; Londonderry, NH
- 612Brew; Minneapolis, MN
- 903 Brewers; Sherman, TX
Area code 903 covered Sherman, Texas and yet the telephone phone number for 903 Brewers listed a 214 area code (Dallas and its eastern metropolitan area). I’ve yet to figure out that paradox.
Admission to the Union
“US Naval Jack“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Twelve Mile Circle discusses individual US states all the time so it was nice to see a set of brewers who paid attention and took lots of notes during their mandatory state history classes back in junior high school. They incorporated the correct order that their respective states joined the Union.
- 12th State Brewing; Greensboro, NC (planned)
- 14th Star Brewing; St. Albans, VT
- 38 State Brewing; Littleton, CO
- 49th State Brewery; Healy, AK
- 1912 Brewing; Tucson, AZ (planned)
Arizona joined the Union in 1912 in case anyone wondered about that last one. Extra credit went to 1st Republic Brewing. It was named for a government that existed briefly (1777-1791) prior to Vermont becoming a US state. Before anyone mentions Bear Republic Brewing in California, let’s recognize that it didn’t have a number in its name so it fell outside of the rules for this article.
Let’s also recognize breweries that referenced the United States Constitution since we’re already on an historical theme: 21st Amendment Brewery (ended prohibition on alcohol); 1933 Brewing (year that prohibition ended); and my favorite, 8th Amendment Brewing (prohibits cruel and unusual punishment).
There were numerous instances of breweries named for minor streets, plus others named for street addresses, mile markers and highway exits. I wanted those associated with larger highways, a frequent 12MC topic. Like area codes, highway identifiers correlated strongly to geography and thus could target specific customers.
- A1A Ale Works; St. Augustine, FL
- Highway 1 Brewing; Pescadero, CA
- Pike 51 Brewing; Hudsonville, MI
- 101 North; Petaluma, CA
- 101 Brewery; Quilcene, WA
Two breweries named for US Highway 101? That warranted further discussion.
Highway 101 was one of the original highways designated in 1926, running from San Ysidro, California to Olympia, Washington, nearly the entire length of the west coast of the United States from México to Canada. It invokes feelings of identity and nostalgia for many people, maybe not as great as the legendary Route 66 although certainly at a respectable level. Its endpoints changed over time in a rather confusing fashion in recent years, as noted in detail at usends.com. However, that wouldn’t change its usefulness as a marketing tool.
I have beer on my mind because I’ll be at my favorite beer festival on Saturday (Aug. 9, 2014), the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin. Send me a note if you plan to be there and I’ll try to find you. I might even do some live tweeting. That should be amusing.
Fair warning, this article contains opinions and editorial content. You’re welcome to continue reading or come back in a couple of days when I return to the more traditional mix of geo-oddities and weird locations.
A note to myself in the Year 2050 (assuming I’m still writing 12MC, and alive, preferably both… although writing from the grave might be interesting too): "write an article about how there was once a time when people used a geographically-based numerical string to communicate over long distances."
I’ll focus on the North American Numbering Plan because I have a passing familiarity with it, although parallels could certainly be drawn to other numbering plans beyond the continent.
The first three digits are known as a "numbering plan area" or NPA. An analogous designation more familiar to the general public is "Area Code" so I’ll use that term throughout the remainder of this article. The next three digits are the NXX, or the exchange (NXX isn’t actually an acronym, it represents specific numerical characteristics).
Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Let’s use my beloved Commonwealth to consider the complexity that evolved over time. Virginia once had a single area code, 703. Population increases along with device accretion, particularly the rise of mobile devices, resulted in ever-increasing territorial divisions. It also necessitated bizarre "overlay" area codes when it became too difficult to keep slicing the map and making people adjust to new numbers every few years.
It doesn’t matter. It will be completely irrelevant soon enough.
The NXX portion of a telephone number, the exchange, still retains a geographic identity although it’s gone underground. It was once very visible. The Glenn Miller Orchestra popularized a composition by Jerry Gray in 1940 called PEnnsylvania 6-5000, as an example. It was the telephone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. You’ll probably recognize the song even though it was released long before most of us were born (listen on YouTube). The hotel continues to exist although the number converted to the much less memorable 736-5000 generations ago.
Where am I going with this? Right. Just like nobody really cares or consideres that telephone exchanges are physical places — except perhaps from an historical or nostalgic perspective — the same will soon be true for area codes. I started noticing this probably about three to five years ago. It’s hard for me to pin down a date exactly because it’s been such a gradual movement.
Employers that wish to remain relevant recognize a need to refresh and replenish their workforces. Many of these are newly-graduating students from colleges and universities. My employer, and probably many of yours, recruits actively on university campuses. We gain a steady stream of entry-level professionals each summer who quickly blend into the group, bringing fresh perspectives and influencing new approaches. My organization has a critical mission that has to continue regardless of weather conditions or other external factors so we’ve developed multiple ways to communicate, including sharing personal telephone numbers as a contingency. That’s where I first noticed the trend as it grew.
Newer employees, all living within the Washington, DC area, had "home" phone numbers with unusual area codes. When I’d ask, since I’m a curious sort because I’m a bit of a telecom geek, they’d invariably tie it back to a mobile phone number they’d retained since high school or college. For them the area code long-ago transitioned in meaning. It became a geographic signifier of a formative point in their life (much like a Social Security Number) rather than a reflection of a current place.
They don’t have home phones. The logic: Why would anyone want a device tied to a place instead of a person? That’s no grand revelation, either. Many of us have given up our home phones. The revelation may be that we’re getting close to a tipping point where enough people will have relocated, taking their numbers with them, to effectively disassociate area code from geography.
That’s not true solely for mobile phones either. I don’t have a black plastic box with a handset and a keypad on my desk while I work. We all use Cisco IP phones that replicate the functions of traditional telephones within a computer desktop. I can work from an office, from home, from a hotel or wherever I choose and nobody calling me can tell the difference. I plug a headset into a USB port on a device loaded with the necessary software and the network finds me. We even have remote workers who telework from their homes full-time in locations all around the country and they all have "Northern Virginia" area codes served by IP phones.
Telephones are going the way of the dinosaur anyway although that’s probably a conversation for a different day. Chat, video and collaboration tools are all eating into telephone usage. My work phone rings maybe once or twice a week now and I’m a bit annoyed when it happens: "why are they calling?"
So area codes are becoming irrelevant as geographic identifiers, and telephones are becoming irrelevant as a primary means of long-distance communication. I imagine a day in the not too distant future where each of us will have a cute unique identifier that bounces off some central registry somewhere. It will allow people to communicate with us using whatever method seems most appropriate for that specific conversation (including something as quaint and antiquated as a voice call if that’s what they want). The inegrated chat/phone/video function of GMail already operate similarly although I see something more global, less proprietary. It would work much like how domain name servers operate today where it’s easier to remember twelvemilecircle.com than a big string of seemingly random numbers.
Goodbye, area code. Your (user visible) days are numbered.